Yellowstone Park Foundation

Yellowstone Park Foundation

At Yellowstone National Park, the residual gas in discarded propane canisters is extracted by a machine that then crushes the bottles so they can be recycled. The kicker? The machine is powered by the same gas it extracts, closing the fossil fuel loop.

That’s one example of how the world’s first national park also aims to be first for environmental stewardship. From solar-heated buildings, to an aggressive composting program, to a truck fleet that uses high-efficiency tires, Yellowstone has an environmental record nearly as impressive as its geysers. If Yellowstone isn’t already the greenest national park, it certainly intends to earn that distinction.

With that goal in mind, the Yellowstone Park Foundation—the park’s fund-raising partner—recently invited a team of environmental thinkers to a two-day greening symposium at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. The objective: to help Yellowstone develop a strategy for taking its environmental programs to the next level.

In all, about 30 corporate, academic, and government experts were on hand to advise Yellowstone. Herman Miller was there, too—lending not only environmental insight, but also professional facilitators to lead the session.

“With so many perspectives in the room, it would have been easy to get off track,” says Karen Bates Kress, president of the Yellowstone Park Foundation. “Herman Miller’s leadership was an immense help in keeping us focused.”

“It was invigorating to be with so many people who know so much about sustainability,” says Tracy Brower, who is director of Herman Miller’s Performance Environments group and helped facilitate the symposium. “It also gave us a chance to renew acquaintances—some of the participants developed their environmental expertise at Herman Miller before heading off to other companies.”


Herman Miller’s Performance Environments team offers a collection of services that help clients get more value from their workplace. Their core competency is leading groups in building consensus. Regardless of the specific objective—workplace change, cultural renewal, alternative work strategies, workplace optimization—Herman Miller engagements seek to establish a shared vision and a roadmap for achieving it.


“For Yellowstone, we developed a custom session,” Brower says. “Instead of addressing various workplace issues, the goal was to develop consensus regarding the future of sustainability within the park.”

At nearly 3,500 square miles—larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined—Yellowstone faces some daunting environmental challenges, especially when you consider the park has more than 5,000 employees and three million annual visitors.

To be sure of making headway on those challenges in the short time available, Herman Miller worked with park and foundation representatives to clarify desired outcomes. Among them: Firm up support for Yellowstone’s environmental vision, fine-tune a strategic plan containing specific environmental goals, and prioritize the actions needed to reach them. Or, as Brower sums up, “Where are we going, how will we get there, and how will we know when we arrive?”

The symposium also allotted time for participants to share best practices, so Yellowstone could learn from the experience of organizations on the environmental vanguard.


By the end of the two days, Yellowstone identified short-and long-range goals that now form the backbone of the park’s sustainability plan. Energy management, water conservation, diversion of waste from landfills, environmental purchasing—specific goals have been set in dozens of areas.

Examples: The park aims to reduce the size of its fleet, increase use of public and shared transportation, and slash fossil fuel consumption with an eye toward eventually becoming carbon neutral. On the energy front, plans include securing LEED certification for new construction and reducing use of nonrenewable energy 75 percent by mid-century. Many projects establish a short-term target for 2016—the centennial of the National Park Service—and a long-range goal for 2050.

“We hope our plan can serve as a model for other national parks,” Kress says. “We want Yellowstone to continue being a shining example of environmental innovation.”

Adds Tom Porter, the foundation’s corporate relations manager, “I don’t think the outcome would have been possible without the professional facilitation provided by Herman Miller. We trapped people in a room for two days and kept them engaged the whole time. How often can you say that about a meeting?”

Photo credit: YPF Photo/Tom Porter

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